BEIJING – Transport minister Akihiro Ota met with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong in Beijing on Friday to discuss bilateral relations damaged by territorial disagreements and differing viewpoints on history.
It is the first time a Japanese minister has visited the Chinese capital since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formed his government in December 2012.
Ota is a former leader of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party. The meeting comes amid a softening by China toward Japan in recent months, saying it is open to promoting exchanges with Japanese political parties, companies and local government officials.
Still, China has kept up its harsh rhetoric against Abe and since spring has told Japanese delegations visiting Beijing that the heightened tensions boil down to Abe’s hawkish political stance.
“China is placing a great deal of importance on the New Komeito party,” Liu told Ota at the outset of the meeting at the Great Hall of the People. “Although bilateral relations are in an extremely difficult situation, the minister’s visit to China has extraordinary significance.”
“I am hoping from my bottom of heart that your visit would actively contribute to the development of China-Japan relations,” said Liu, one of the two women on the Chinese Communist Party’s 25-member Politburo.
China has historically maintained close ties with the LDP’s junior partner, which is backed by lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, as it has pursued dovish foreign and security policies.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met with New Komeito’s leader, Natsuo Yamaguchi, in January 2013.
Ota arrived in Beijing on Thursday aiming to improve bilateral collaboration in tourism. He had talks the same day with Wang Jiarui, minister of the International Department at the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
On Friday, Ota was also expected to meet with Li Xiaolin, president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, Shao Qiwei, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, and Tang Jiaxuan, head of the China-Japan Friendship Association and a former state councilor.
Among China’s four vice premiers, Ota’s counterpart should be Wang Yang, who is in charge of tourism. However, by arranging a meeting between Ota and Liu, the Chinese leadership apparently intends to send Abe’s team a message of commitment to improved ties.